Our Lady of Guadalupe (12 Dec 2009) Zech 2. 14-17; Resp Judith 3; Lk 1. 39-47
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Today’s feast honors the memory of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to a Mexican man in 1531. Juan Diego was humble and poor. For this reason, more than reasons national and ethnic, Spanish-speaking people respect the Virgin in ways with which others may not resonate.
Earlier this week, during novenas honoring our Lady of Guadalupe in many places near and far, the Bishop of Dallas concisely expressed why this is so. “The Virgin of Guadalupe continues to be a symbol of dignity, hope and compassion for all who are marginalized.”1 Advent and Christmas are full of marginalized people from captives exiled from their land and temple; the prophets who announced God’s hope to be the people’s hope; to Mary, who learned she would give human nature to the Second Person of the Trinity; to Joseph, who led her in flight with the Infant; to the shepherds, the first humans to hear of and see with their eyes Emmanuel.
The history of the Americas marginalized its native peoples, whose descendants continue to suffer the effects of long ago. Many who flee their homes and come to the Americas for freedom also suffer those effects. Those of us who remain deaf to them or blind to their presence suffer marginalization from the heart of God, who showed especial care for the lowly and the hungry and all in need of mercy.2
The Basilica of Guadalupe, built a short walk down the hill from where Mary appeared to Juan Diego, Pope John Paul II called “the Marian heart of America.”3 He had completed his Apostolic Exhortation after the synod of bishops had focused on the American continent. He brought a copy with him to the “the Marian heart of America,” saying:
I have come here to place at the feet of the mestiza Virgin of Tepeyac, Star of the New World, the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in America, which incorporates the contributions and pastoral suggestions of that Synod, entrusting to the Mother and Queen of this continent the future of its evangelization.4
Evangelization is key to this feast, celebrated in the Americas with particular fervor. Evangelization looks ahead for the sake of advancing the gospel. Evangelizers look to their history, especially the roots of how the church began and grew, in order to move forward and advance the gospel to the frontiers both faithfully and effectively.
Evangelizers’ first frontier, of course, is their hearts. When has my heart, my being felt forced to the margins? Have I surrendered to Mary’s son in those moments? How have I noticed Jesus accompany me, join me, choose me, restore and strengthen me? In what way and for what purpose has Jesus transformed my vision?
When we entertain those and similar questions of the heart, our first frontier, we acknowledge our human poverty—Jesus called it poor in spirit:5 more difficult to acknowledge than poverty of things—and allow Jesus to evangelize us then choose us to announce his good news and to live what we announce. This is a pattern of living humility as Jesus did. It takes strength, self-esteem, vision, compassion and desire to apply oneself anew each day. They require a realism we Catholics name faith. Faith daily calls Jesus to complete what we cannot do solely by human effort.
Mary demonstrated that faith never dismisses human effort but allies with it; that people are the hands, feet, eyes, ears and heart of the holy one. Faith is a verb, people in action, as Elizabeth reminded Mary of her esteem for which we remember her and desire to imitate: Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. We learn that better “at the feet of the Star of the New World,” wherever we may be.
- Bishop Kevin Farrell of the Diocese of Dallas, in the Dallas Morning News, 11 December 2009, electronic edition.
- Luke 1.52-54, part of Mary’s praise. Its beginning closed today’s gospel.
- His homily at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, Saturday, 23 January 1999, during his Apostolic Journey to America.
- Matthew 5.3.